The Attractional Church Model as a Funnel for Discipleship

Joshua Roberie

Is the Attractional Model (AM) a way for churches to funnel new attendees into discipleship or does it produce churches whose only focus is “a way of ministry that… [makes] Christianity appealing?”[1] While many of the fastest-growing churches in America utilize the AM,[2] criticism of this approach has risen. It is effective at gathering new people, but some believe these churches are compromising their missio Dei for relevancy.[3] Is it possible to have a church committed to being attractional and making disciples? This research will present that the AM works as a funnel for discipleship as long as the same commitment to attracting the lost to weekend services is present in a church’s attention to missional-style discipleship.

In How to Make Big Decisions Wisely, Alan Ehler presents a biblical framework for making decisions utilizing the power of story. His goal is “to bring together biblical wisdom and the best scholarly insights to help you shape your story in the best way possible.”[4] He accomplishes this by teaching a model of decision-making he calls “Story Shaping.”

Story Shaping has a “four-step framework for decision-making: (1) Read the Backstory, (2) Catch God’s Story, (3) Craft a New Story, and (4) Tell the New Story.”[5] The Story Shaping method is used in this research to address the discipleship problem facing AM churches. It will become clear that there are various opinions on the AM and multiple approaches available for discipleship in the local church. As Ehler states, “if outside experts or others involved cannot agree on the right approach, or if there seem to be multiple options with equal chance of success, then an intentional decision making process like Story Shaping is warranted.” [6]

Read the BackStory

A few simple questions must be asked to “read the backstory” of the AM. In Ehler’s first step of the Story Shaping process he says one should “ask questions about the existing strengths of an organization and uses those to determine what must be eliminated when change is made.”[7] The research will ask questions that examine the AM’s backstory to help determine its ability to lead people into a discipleship process.

If its critics are correct, then the AM has a discipleship dilemma. In an article written for the Gospel Coalition, Jared C. Wilson says that in the AM, “there is no significant attention given to life or discipleship beyond the weekend worship service.”[8] According to Richard Green in an article for the Keystone Project, the AM “does not make disciples.”[9] Green continues by saying the AM’s methods lead to “a form of Christianity which has allowed [an attendee] to be a Christian without being a disciple.”[10] L.E. Brown cautions that because of the AM paradigm, “the Church in America faces a significant existential threat that will eventually sweep countless congregations into history’s dustbin.”[11] These warnings paint a picture of crisis for those who seek to utilize the AM for their congregations. These churches may be growing in size, but are they making an eternal difference in their communities and their members’ spiritual formation?

Should attractional churches even be concerned with discipleship if they see large attendance numbers in their weekend services? The most evident reason church leadership should make discipleship a top priority is that going out into the world and making disciples was the last command given by Christ in Matt. 28:19-20 (NIV): “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

The Apostles also continued to emphasize the importance of discipleship. In one of the most well-known discipleship relationships in scripture, Paul tells Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). In His masterwork, The Master Plan of Evangelism, Robert E. Coleman says, “The ultimate goal of Jesus for his disciples was that his life be reproduced in them and through them into the lives of others.[12] Coleman proposes that Jesus had no backup plan for world evangelism other than his investment into people who would do the same for others through discipleship. It can be gathered from these examples that a church’s commitment to discipleship is paramount. 

Now that the AM’s dilemma has been established and why it is essential to be solved, it is now important to define the AM and its strategies. Two opposing views on what the AM is will be considered, along with a third that seeks to find common ground between the two.

 One predominant view of the AM that has already been reflected in this research is that the AM seeks crowds more than mission effectiveness. This point of view is represented in a review of The Prodigal Church by Joey Chen. In his paper, he states that Jared C. Wilson believes pragmatism and consumerism are the two ideologies driving the attractional church.[13] Chen explains these two points further by saying Wilson “criticizes pragmatism because it assumes that ‘what works’ is wise and beneficial. He identifies consumerism as being ingrained in the Church Growth movement but questions whether consumer desires should be the primary concern of the church.”[14] In Wilson’s perspective, churches are misguided if they believe “that the customer’s interests are legitimate.”[15] Based on these insights, it can be concluded that Wilson’s definition of the AM is one where a value system of prioritizing consumers’ interests above other missions of the church is present. This perspective questions whether an approach is valid simply because this is what brings people into the church building on Sunday Morning.

In his book, The Attractional Church: Growth Through a Refreshing, Relational and Relevant Church Experience, Billy Hornsby gives many examples to describe what an AM church looks like in practice. A straightforward definition he gives is that they are called attractional simply because they attract large numbers of people.[16] What is it that they are attracted to attend? Is it a compromising of the message of the gospel in order to shamelessly get them in the door? According to Hornsby, people are attracted to these churches simply because they are “refreshing, relational, and relevant church experiences.”[17] He says a good word to describe these kinds of churches is “life-giving.”[18]

The contradicting perspective on even how to define the AM is rooted in someone being a part of one of two camps: missional or attractional. Interpreting the story of the AM is based on one’s own experience or connection to one of these groups is what Ehler calls “our story reading glasses.”[19] It is from these two groups that a “controversy over the most effective way to expand the kingdom of God” [20] has been argued. According to Dr. Jesse Wilson, this “is an argument that the church cannot afford.”[21] He offers a definition of both to find common ground between the two ideologies. He says a missional church “is about the (1) missionary status of God and His church… (2)  …incarnational ministry… [and] (3) …actively participating in the missio Dei, or mission of God.” [22] He then defines the attractional church by saying that the AM “hungers for lost people, …believes in worship excellence, [and] … creates a loving community.” [23] These two definitions create a clearer picture of how the attractional church can be defined, a glimpse into its methods, and why it has taken on criticism because of how it differs from the missional approach to church growth. 

The researcher’s experience with training, planting, and leading AM churches finds a definition from Sam Horn to be the most accurate. He states, “AM churches believe the primary purpose of weekly corporate worship is to attract lost people, disengaged Christians or the unchurched to come to Jesus, accept the Gospel and reconnect with the church.”[24]From this definition of AM churches, an evaluation of AM discipleship dilemma will be conducted. To use this definition alone, though, and not include the perspective of the missional and attractional proponents’ opinions on the AM would be incomplete. All that has been covered is vital to moving forward because in both the criticism and defense of the AM, the issue of discipleship is front and center.

Catch God’s Story

The research will now attempt to “collaborate with God in shaping [the AM] story” [25]  in the second step of the Story Shaping process. This process is in line with “the principles of practical theology, which seeks to ‘interpret the revelatory realism of God’s action in concrete lived experience.’”[26] From this perspective, the research expects God to be involved in the story of the AM and will attempt to “catch” that involvement in this next section.

The AM does not derive its “primary purpose [from] making Christianity appealing,” as Wilson claims. This would stifle God’s work through repentance. Instead, the AM embraces a “growth mindset that sees[s] themselves and others as capable of learning and improving.” [27] This is seen in how the AM takes a friendly approach that draws people to church so repentance can occur. The AM abandons the reasoning of  churches that refuse to adjust their approach with the change of culture due to a “fixed mindset.”[28] Hornsby says that “theologically, the attractional church’s message is biblically based.[29] It is not “the content of the message but rather… the style of presenting it”[30]  that the AM seeks to change. 

One can further observe God’s involvement in the methods of the AM by comparing them to how Jesus ministered. Hornsby says that an attractional church’s “real success can be measured by the number of souls that come to Christ and the impact the church has on its community.”[31] This example reveals that the attractional church model seeks to be evangelical, not for gathering alone, but for multiplication and the glorification of God in the community. Jesus often gathered crowds and cared for their needs when he taught (Matthew 5-7). God is involved in attempts to gather people to hear the gospel, as displayed in the AM, and not just church gatherings that are believer-focused.  

God’s involvement in the AM process is further displayed in the book of Romans. Paul quotes the prophet Joel when he tells the Romans that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13 NIV). He then goes on to explain how one comes to salvation. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them (Romans 10:14)? From this, it can be concluded that hearing is necessary for believing, which is required for salvation. Since discipleship cannot begin without salvation, we can rightly say that creating opportunities for people to hear the gospel is paramount for discipleship to take place eventually. With this understanding, we can “catch God’s story” in the AM strategy for evangelistic gatherings to create a funnel for churches to engage in discipleship.

God can use weekly church services created with unchurched people in mind to see new attendees connected to the church, but does that mean these services are effective at creating disciples? The next step in the Story Shaping process will present ideas to understand this area better. 

Craft a New Story

In this section, an attempt will be made to“craft a new story” about the AM and discipleship. Ehler describes this step as including three different elements.[32] The word craft is used to show a person’s involvement with God in finding the best possible solution.[33]He describes this step as “a story” so that a person does not become paralyzed into believing there is only one way forward.[34] This is certainly true when making disciples in the local church. Many options are available. This research aims to find the best options for the AM to make disciples. The final component used to describe this step is the word “new.”[35] The reason why Ehler uses this word to describe the third step in his Story Shaping Process is that the results “will change the future for [the person involved in the decision making process] and perhaps others.”[36]

To craft a new story for AM’s effectiveness in discipleship, attention will first be given to an explanation of how discipleship takes place. In a post called “Jesus’ Upside Down Strategy” at an example is given between modern-day discipleship vs Jesus’ discipleship strategy. The author claims that “Jesus focused a disproportionate amount of time discipling the Twelve…”[37] The article goes on to explain that programs and services can distract ministry leaders from the critical work of discipleship.[38] Honest attention is given to “the great tension of the big and the small”[39] in churches. Then the author asks the question that this research is attempting to address as well, “How do I focus on the few… when modern culture demands the big… and now?”[40] Two models of discipleship are presented along with a graphic that depicts both to answer this question. 

The first graphic represents “modern-day discipleship.” This can also be described as the AM’s discipleship method because “attend” is at the top of the funnel (Fig. 1). 

Fig. 1 The AM is being reflected as one that attracts a large number of people but leads to only a few followers going into the world as disciples. The impact is minimal and represented by a drip on the world.[41]

The interpretation of the AM shown in Figure 1 paints a picture of a discipleship funnel with little impact on the Great Commission.  The “Jesus Discipleship Strategy” in Figure 2 tells a different story of many disciples being released to fulfill the Great Commission.

Fig 2. The missional model of discipleship is reflected as starting with a few people but, over time, multiplying until a large number of followers are turned into followers. The massive impact of these disciples is reflected in the flood of water being emptied onto the earth from the funnel.

These two funnels do not have to exist in a contradictory relationship. Benny Perez says he sees great value in both the attractional and the missional model. According to Perez, they “do not need to be in opposition to each other.”[42] Perez says that when Jesus spoke to crowds, he got on their level by using stories.[43] Jesus was attractional in his presentation of the gospel in order to connect with as many people as possible. Perez models the example of Jesus by avoiding insider language in his church that outsiders will not understand.[44] He says that taking this approach allows his church services to be geared toward both believers and unbelievers.[45] According to Perez, the experience does not end with the weekly worship service. He says, “when people come to church… there should be a ‘wow factor.’ Then, when people leave your church, they should leave with the understanding that they too are on a mission, living life with a higher purpose.”[46]

A new model for discipleship can be derived from the Both/And approach of Perez, and the Jesus Discipleship Strategy presented in the Emotionally Healthy Discipleship article. In Figure 3, a model is presented where many of the upside-down funnels are taking place in one church because, first, a come-and-see approach was taken by a church. Many Jesus Discipleship funnels can exist in one church using the AM as a larger funnel that feeds this smaller funnel. This is how a church can commit to making disciples once new people are connected to the church. 

The new story for the AM should involve a commitment to its current strategy of attracting people who otherwise would not come to church while also embracing a missional “perspective of sending people out into the community, [and] encouraging… members to evangelize in those places.”[47]

Tell the New Story

Ehler’s final step in the Story Shaping process is to “Tell the New Story.”[48] He calls this step “making your decision happen.” [49] How can AM churches tell the new story of being both attractional in their weekend services and missional in their approach to discipleship? In Deep & Wide, Andy Stanley suggests that discipleship in past models increased people’s knowledge without growing people’s faith.[50] To tell the new story for his church that he wanted to be both deep (missional) and wide (attractional.). He states his approach to discipleship is to “lead people into a growing relationship with Christ” and “a growing relationship equate[s] to growing faith.”[51] From this, Stanley developed “five faith catalysts” that include: “practical teaching, private disciplines, personal ministry, providential relationships, and pivotal circumstances.”[52] These “faith catalysts” correlate with Ehler’s encouragement to “frame the plan with a clear model” when telling the new story.[53]

Chris Hodges suggests four simple steps that help “tell the new story” of discipleship through a faith journey that includes “know God, find freedom, discover purpose, and make a difference.”[54] As Ehler teaches, these four steps are “simple” and are created with the target audience in mind.”[55] These four steps could have easily been called salvation, church membership, discipleship, and leadership. Instead of framing the discipleship journey with traditional language, Hodges prefers to lay out the steps in a way that is “refreshing, relational, and relevant;” which is how Hornsby describes an attractional church’s weekend services.[56]

What is the result of Hodge’s attempt to bridge the gap between the attractional and missional models with weekend services that are “empowering environments [that] challenge you to your core in an atmosphere of encouragement”[57] and a simple and inviting discipleship program? Church of the Highlands, the church Hodges pastors, has grown to 24 locations.[58] As of 2019, the church has 51,153 people in weekly attendance.[59] While this growth is impressive compared to the average church size (65 in weekly attendance)[60], does it mean Hodges and Highlands is effectively making disciples? According to the Highlands Legacy Report from 2021[61] the church’s members regularly serve over 21,000 people in the community through outreach efforts and served over 15,000 people on the church’s annual service and outreach day called “Serve Day.” The church also gathers 4,856 prisoners weekly across 21 Alabama correctional facilities for Sunday worship. Through the church’s local and global efforts, 87,653 people were baptized in 2021.

The Attractional Model for churches can work as a discipleship funnel as long as the churches who use this strategy include a missional mindset to equip believers for the work of the ministry once they are connected to the church. Churches cannot, as Cross states, “relegate the majority of ministerial work to paid clergy whose professional training has provided them with various forms of work we call ministry.”[62] This is because “God is not pleased with sacrifices arising only from [church attendees] lips but demands the service of [their] lives.”[63] If AM churches are content to only gather and not properly prioritize discipleship with the same commitment that they give to excellent weekend services, then they are laboring in vain. This does not need to be the case. As many churches have shown, for example, Andy Stanley’s Northwood and Chris Hodge’s Church of the Highlands, churches can utilize a simple onboarding process for discipleship that complements their attractional weekend services with great success.


Brown, L. E. “Missional Ecclesiology in the Book of Acts.” Journal of the Grace Evangelical 

Society Autumn2011, P65 (2011)

Chen, J. (2016). Book Review: The Prodigal Church: A Gentile Manifesto against the Status 

Quo by Jared C. Wilson. Great Commission Research Journal, 8(1), 131-134. Retrieved 


Church of the Highlands. Last modified October 17, 2022.

Church of the Highlands. “Highlands Legacy Report.” accessed October 17, 2022. 

Coleman, Robert E. The Master Plan of Evangelism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Revell, 2008.

Cross, Terry. Serving the People of God’s Presence: A Theology of Ministry. Grand Rapids: 

Baker Academic, 2020.

Duck, Braeden, Jack Kellum, Carson Knauff, and Adam Carr. “Church of the Highlands, Grants         

Mill Campus.” Magic City Religion (blog), December 16, 2019. 

Earls, Aaron. “Small Churches Continue Growing—but in Number, Not Size.” Lifeway Research 

(blog). Lifeway Research, October 20, 2021.


%20church%20each%20week., October 17, 2022. 

Ehler, Alan. How to Make Big Decisions Wisely: A Biblical & Scientific Guide to Healthier 

Habits, Less Stress, A Better Career, and Much More. Grand Rapids, Michigan: 

Zondervan Reflective, 2020.

Emotionally Healthy Discipleship. “Jesus’ Upside down Strategy,” Emotionally Healthy 

Discipleship, April 26, 2016,

Henry, Desmond. “Missional Postures and Practices for South African Baptist Churches.”

Verbum Et Ecclesia 39, no. 1 (2018): 1–9.

Hodges, Chris. What’s Next? The Journey to Know God, Find Freedom, Discover Purpose, and 

Make a Difference. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019

Hodges, Chris. Fresh Air: Trading Stale Spiritual Obligation for a Life-Altering, Energizing, 

Experience-It-Everyday Relationship with God. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 


Horn, Sam. “Choosing a Church: Two Models Recognizing the Theological Orientation of a 

Local Church” Bob Jones University: November 19, 2019,


Hornbsy, Billy. The Attractional Church: Growth Through a Refreshing, Relational, and 

Relevant Experience. New York: Faith Words, 2011

Perez, Benny. Both/And Ministering In Between Life’s Extremes. Las Vegas: ChurchLV, 2020

Saldivar, David. “The Problem with Attractional Evangelism.” The Keystone Project, February     

25, 2013.   

Wilson, Jared C. “5 Reasons You Should (Probably) Leave Your Attractional Church.” Web 

blog. The Gospel Coalition (blog), February 2, 2016.


Wilson, Jared C. The Prodigal Church: A Gentile Manifesto against the Status Quo. Wheaton, 

IL: Crossway, 2015.

Wilson, Jesse. “Missional vs Attractional: An Argument the Church Cannot Afford.” Ministry 

Magazine: August 2018:



[1] Wilson, Jared C. The Prodigal Church: A Gentile Manifesto against the Status Quo.( Wheaton, IL: 

Crossway, 2015), 25 

[2] Billy Hornsby, The Attractional Church: Growth through a Refreshing, Relational, and Relevant Church 

Experience (New York: FaithWords, 2011), 2

[3] Henry, Desmond. “Missional Postures and Practices for South African Baptist Churches.” Verbum Et 

Ecclesia 39, no. 1 (2018): 1

[4] Ehler, Alan. How to Make Big Decisions Wisely: A Biblical & Scientific Guide to Healthier 

Habits, Less Stress, A Better Career, and Much More (Grand Rapids, Michigan: 

Zondervan Reflective, 2020), 19

[5] Ehler, How to Make Big Decisions Wisely, 20

[6] Ehler, How to Make Big Decisions Wisely, 26

[7] Ibid.

[8] Jared C Wilson, “The Gospel Coalition,” The Gospel Coalition (blog), February 2, 2016,


[9] Saldivar, David, “The Problem with Attractional Evangelism,” The Keystone Project, February 25, 2013,

[10] Ibid.

[11] L.E. Brown. “Missional Ecclesiology in the Book of Acts” (2011) Journal of the Grace Evangelical 

Society, p66-5.

[12] Coleman, Robert E. The Master Plan of Evangelism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Revell, 2008), 161 

[13] Joey Chen, “Book Review: The Prodigal Church: A Gentile Manifesto against the Status Quo by Jared  

C. Wilson,” The Great Commission Research Journal, 8, no. 1,

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Hornbsy, The Attractional Church, 2

[17] Ibid., 1

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ehler, How to Make Big Decisions Wisely, 39-41

[20] Wilson, Jesse. “Missional vs Attractional: An Argument the Church Cannot Afford.” Ministry 

Magazine: August 2018:


[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Horn, Sam. “Choosing a Church: Two Models Recognizing the Theological Orientation of a 

Local Church” Bob Jones University: November 19, 2019


[25] Ehler, How to Make Big Decisions Wisely, 73

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid., 44

[28] Ibid.

[29] Hornsby, The Attractional Church, 3

[30] Ibid.

[31]Hornsby, The Attractional Church, 2

[32] Ehler, How to Make Big Decisions Wisely, 92-93

[33] Ibid.. 

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] “Jesus’ Upside down Strategy,” Emotionally Healthy Discipleship (Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, 

April 26, 2016),

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Perez, Benny. Both/And Ministering In Between Life’s Extremes. (Las Vegas: ChurchLV, 2020) 

Kindle Edition, 31

[43] Ibid., 32-33

[44] Ibid., 33

[45] Ibid., 34

[46] Ibid., 31-32

[47] Ibid., 31

[48] Ehler, How to Make Big Decisions Wisely, 119

[49] Ibid.

[50]  Stanley, Andy. Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurches People Love to Attend. (Grand 

Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2012), 107

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid., 108-109

[53] Ehler, How to Make Big Decisions Wisely, 121

[54] Hodges, Chris. What’s Next? The Journey to Know God, Find Freedom, Discover Purpose, and 

Make a Difference. (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019)

[55] Ehler, How to Make Big Decisions Wisely, 120

[56] Hornsby, The Attractional Church, 2

[57] Hodges, Chris. Fresh Air: Trading Stale Spiritual Obligation for a Life-Altering, Energizing, 

Experience-It-Everyday Relationship with God. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 

2012), 28

[58] Church of the Highlands, last modified October 17, 2022,

[59] Braeden Duck et al., “Church of the Highlands, GrantsMill Campus.” Magic City Religion (blog), 

December 16, 2019.

[60] Aaron Earls, “Lifeway Research,” Lifeway Research (blog) (Lifeway Research, October 20, 2021),

/#:~:text=While%20the%20average%20U.S.%20congregations,the%20median%20church%20each%20week., October 17, 2022.

[61]Church of the Highlands, “Highlands Legacy Report,” accessed October 17, 2022 

[62] Cross, Terry. Serving the People of God’s Presence: A Theology of Ministry. (Grand Rapids: 

Baker Academic, 2020), 13.

[63] Ibid.,26


You have heard the saying, ABC: Always be closing. In ministry the phrase should be ABD: Always be developing leaders (including recruiting leaders). When recruiting people for your church plant, consider reaching those far from Christ, finding people who need a church to grow in their faith, and gathering leaders who can help you support the mission of the church.

“If I were running a company today I would have one priority above all others: to acquire as many of the best people as I could [because] the single biggest constraint on the success of my organization is the ability to get and to hang on to enough of the right people.”

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great

Such a good thought for church planters in the recruiting phase. I believe this also applies to all seasons of any organization. Leaders are the skeleton that supports church growth. You can swell without good leaders. You can gather by taking advantage of seasons and great planning for an event. But sustainable growth requires great leaders and teams of leaders to hold the pieces together. Leaders are the ones who transmit the values and culture into others.

“Leaders are the skeleton that supports church growth.”

Understanding the following three phases of pastoring helps you develop leaders while taking care of everyone else in the church.

Reaching new people. If your church plant is not reaching out to those far from God, then you are missing the point. A new church should not merely add a new worship service to a community. It should be an outpost of help and rescue, actively displaying the love of Christ by helping people meet their spiritual and physical needs.

Caring for members. Members easily can be overlooked in the mix of starting a new church or growing an existing church. Alternately, they can become the total focus of a church that then unintentionally ignores other groups. Being a wise pastor means continuously providing love, encouragement, and correction to members. We must cry with them and celebrate them. Our goal with this group is to help them take one step at a time in their faith, patiently caring for them along the way.

Developing leaders. Leaders require a different type of attention and plan of action. We don’t love any group more than another, but to love everyone equally, we must love each person differently. As a church planter, keep your eyes open for gatherers. These are people who carry their own influence and have a desire to share that influence with you to grow the local church. The goal is to let them know they are appreciated, while encouraging them to carry the culture. They may get more access to you, and this investment is significant. When the time is right, you will multiply your efforts by delegating responsibility to your leaders.

To summarize, we must focus on recruiting three types of people: New people, through service and outreach; new members, through gatherings and pastoral care; and new leaders, through access and individualized plans. This is not only an important strategy for church planting; it is an effective approach to get and hang on to the right people and help your ministry achieve its mission of reaching the community and growing Christ-followers.

This article first appeared at arc



In the new environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic, church planters learned that the way to home plate may not begin with first base. While the aim to launch a large church remains, how they achieve this goal looks different from before. Church planters already face the unique challenge of starting a church without a permanent space, committed people, or residual income; but now, even the ability to begin accumulating these necessary resources for the launch of a new ministry has been removed.

High-Touch Impact in a Low-Touch Environment

The ARC church planting process typically begins with start-up parties to bring people together. These interest gatherings allow people to meet others who are part of the church launch, hear the vision of the church, and express their level of interest. During the pandemic when people are uncomfortable meeting together and event spaces are not available, church planters have had to be creative in connecting with others. Aaron Burke, the pastor of Radiant Church in Tampa, Florida, says we need to figure out how to “create a high-touch impact in a low-touch environment.”

Virtual Dinner Partiers

To accomplish this, some have created DoorDash Dinner Parties to meet with others interested in joining their launch team. The church orders meals for everyone through a delivery service, and then they all connect on Zoom. Others have followed up one-on-one conversations by delivering small gift cards, a tangible reminder, and an expression of the church’s heart.

Reach Out is the New Outreach

Explaining the shift churches are making during this time, JJ Vasquez, pastor of Journey Church in Winter Springs, Florida, says: “Reach out is the new outreach.”

Casting a wider net can be accomplished by streaming your start-up party on Facebook. Those who confirm attendance receive pizza delivered to their homes. The meeting is still open to anyone who wants to attend without having to make a reservation. These are fun and engaging meetings.

You may begin your meeting with a game. One church planter asked everyone to “count all the times our logo is on the screen, and the winner gets free church swag.” The only catch was the pastor had no idea how many times the logo was on the screen. Everyone who sent in a response received the free church gear. This was a fun way to keep people engaged.

Turn cold leads into warm leads.

The bases and the base paths may look different, but the principles of a large launch remain the same. Turn cold leads into warm leads. Put people first and connect with them in a low-pressure environment to measure their interest. Then follow up one-on-one to see if they are fit to join the launch team. These meetings between the church planters and those interested in taking the next step can be held online through FaceTime, Zoom, or Google Hangout.

Holding in-person weekend services is a continual problem because the spaces typically used by church planters are not available. New precautions have made it difficult for churches to launch in schools, theaters, and other shared venues.


As municipal and business leaders determine the next best steps for public safety, those wanting to start new churches have been forced to wait, indefinitely, for restrictions to be lifted before they have the opportunity to gather in person.

To navigate this new reality, ARC is helping churches launch virtually. When the outbreak began, our team made an immediate pivot to find the best resources for online church and get them to pastors as quickly as possible. Our ARC Launch Team shifted its approach by reaching out weekly to our church planters and offering counsel, resources, and training to enable them to launch online.

We have also temporarily adjusted our funding model to help churches start strong online. We have consulted churches, leaders, and businesses with online streaming experiences to create essential budgets and tools needed to launch virtually. When churches cannot launch physically due to restrictions in their areas, ARC is ready to come alongside them and see their dream of planting new life-giving churches become a reality.

This blog first appeared at arc

Creating a Culture of Prayer

“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” – Corrie ten Boom

Do you have intercessors providing a prayer shield for your church? How have you prioritized prayer in your church? In the uncertain times we live in, prayer has never been more critical. This not only true for you personally, but also for your team and church members. It is vital to create a culture of prayer in your church from the beginning. If we pray more than we preach, then we will never be preaching to just ourselves.*

The first two ARC churches both began with a season of 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting. Church of the Highlands continues to start each year with 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting and also does 21 Days of Prayer at the beginning of the school year. Church of the Highlands is known for its systems and practical help to church planters, but much of the church’s growth can be attributed to their commitment to prayer.

“If you are going to plant a church, then you have to win the war in the spiritual.” – Chris Hodges

Four Keys for Church Planters to Win the War in the Spiritual:

1. 21 Days of Prayer – Have a season of prayer and fasting leading up to your launch day. At ARC, we teach to launch on the fourth Sunday in January. Not only is this one of the most attended launch days on the calendar, but it also gives planters time to lead their team in 21 Days of Prayer leading up to their launch day.

2. Develop a Prayer Team – Have a prayer team as part of your dream team. I once heard it said that every decision for Christ is a result of someone else’s prayers. On your dream team, you should have members of your team praying during the worship experience. There is a spiritual battle taking place every time people come to church for the first time. Let’s post some prayer warriors at the spiritual gates of church services.

3. Have Personal Intercessors – As the church pastor, you need to have a few trusted people covering you and your family in prayer. The spiritual attacks on pastors in the season of launching a church is real. Your intercessors are those you communicate your schedule and needs to so that they can be proactive in praying for you.

4. Group Prayer – Lead a regular time of prayer with your church. Do not delegate the responsibility of group prayer to someone else. From the very beginning of your church, you should be the one leading these prayer meetings. Even later in your church’s life, when you may not lead every meeting, you should still show up. This communicates to the congregation that your church is a place of prayer and that you are winning the battle in the spiritual.

The first teaching in the ARC Church Planting process is “Winning the War in the Spiritual.” You can watch it for free at If you are a pastor looking for resources on prayer, you can find many helpful tools from Church of the Highlands. At this site, you will find teachings on prayer and downloaded prayer guides, and other useful items you can give out in your church.

*Rephrased from this quote: “See to it that we pray more than we preach, and we will never preach ourselves out.” A.W. Tozer

This content originally appeared at

The Final Marketing Push


The plan works when you work the plan. Promoting your launch is not just about spending money. You have to be willing to invest in advertising leading up to your launch day, and you also have to hustle. There is a grind in your final marketing campaign’s weeks and days, but it will pay off on launch day if you are willing to work at it.

Here are ten strategies you can use to gain an additional boost for your final marketing push.


You need seven interactions before you get a transaction. In the church world, that would be seven contacts before they visit.

We want to get in front of as many people as possible as often as possible. Do everything we can do to reach as many people as possible, but everything points back to one thing: the website.


Before you make your final marketing push, you need to make sure you switch your pre-launch website to your full website.

Front and center on your website should be your launch date, service times, and location.

Registration for kids’ ministry should also be available on your website. This will help the registration lines tremendously on launch day.
Everything on your website should be designed with first-time guests in mind.


What do people who do not go to church think about your marketing material?

Do not just hear what church people think. Ask some people who are not yet involved in a church.

Know thyself:

“Know what you’re good at and lean on that. Know what you are not good at and hire someone to do that.”

– Marc Poland, Discover Church


Mailers have a higher return on investment than social media marketing, but you do not have to choose one or the other. Do both.

Have your mailer go along with what people are thinking about and touch on a felt need.

It is not just the quantity of mailers but the quality of the mailer. Get feedback from those who have sent mailers in the past. Run it by your coach.

“We sent 150,000 oversized mailers in Philadelphia and had 450 people on launch day, and almost a year later are still adding people to the team from the mailer. At least ten people on our leadership team now came from the mailer.”

–Marc Poland, Discover Church

Remember: Have the mailer point to the website.

“The largest single reason people showed up on launch day was because of the mailer.”

– Joe Adams, Manna Church


Do multiple ads on multiple platforms, each targeting different types of people.

“Everyone wants to be known/belong and to have purpose/reason to exist. No one can help people with this more than Jesus, so we based all of our ads around those two ideas.”

– Joe Adams, Manna Church

“You should do at least two posts a day starting nine days out only talking about launch day. We used images from preview services and encourage people on our launch team to share as much as possible on their social media platforms.”

–Joe Adams, Manna Church

Reminder: Keep communicating where you are meeting and when the launch taking place.

Share a post on the morning of your launch day: “We are meeting today and cannot wait to see you! Be here (location) at (service time)!”


Let people know what they can expect from your church. Do not assume people already know what kind of church you are and what your culture is.

Take a video of the setup and show them what you are preparing for them.

If you want people with kids to come to your church, prioritize communicating what they can expect in the kid’s spaces. Remember, you are asking them to leave their kids in a different room than they will be in when they have never met you or been to your church before.


Person-to-person invites will be one of the top reasons people attend launch day and will be the leading reason people continue to visit after launch day.

Create a budget for invites: Let your team know you do not just want them to invite people but also to take them out to lunch. Reserve $1,000 for people to take friends out to lunch and invite them to church.

Print out small square invite cards that people can hand friends and family to use when inviting people.

Sharing social media posts is free and highly effective. Make sure your posts are sharable and encourage your team to be online evangelists and share as well.


Every weekend leading up to launch, be visible in your community doing outreach and community engagement.

  • Buy school supplies for elementary schools. For example: buy boxes of crayons to give to kids in elementary schools and include an invite card.
    Pay for people’s meals in restaurants in your neighborhood and give them an invite card.
  • Go to a grocery store and give out gift cards with an invite card as they enter.
  • Give away gas at a gas station and hand them an invite card. “One person pulled up to the gas station with an empty tank of gas and had forgotten her wallet at home. She had no idea how she was going to get home that day. We bought her gas and saw her on launch day.” – Marc Poland, Discover Church
  • Video all of these outreaches and show them on your social media. If someone attends or joins your team from one of these events, then share that story!
  • SWAG – Give away shirts, coffee cups, whatever that keeps your church visible leading up to launch.


Outreach does not have to take away your team’s focus from launch day. Many inexpensive, low effort outreaches can make a significant impact. Here are some ideas:

  • Give away packs of gum.
  • Give away bottles of water.
  • Give away dog treats at a dog park.

“We now have someone on our leadership team that first heard about Manna Church when someone gave them a bag of dog treats at a dog park.”

– Joe Adams, Manna Church
  • Buy McDonald’s Sundaes gift cards ($1) and hand them out to people as they enter the restaurant.


On the Monday after launch, start planning to promote your second service.

Take the best picture of your launch day you can find and post it with something like this: “Did you miss the launch this Sunday? Don’t worry. You can join us next Sunday (time and place).” Then boost it and ask your team to share it.

This content first appeared at and was sourced from the ARC Coaching Webinar, “The Final Marketing Push,” with Joe Adams of Manna Church in Colorado Springs, CO, and Marc Poland of Discover Church in Philadelphia, PA. You can view this video in the ARC Resource File Library under training videos.

How to Choose the Right Team


What do you consider as the key factors when choosing who will be on your leadership team? Some leaders prefer to elevate people who show commitment even though they may not have the same level of charisma or gifting as someone else. Sometimes we put people in leadership positions because they are talented, even though they still need to grow in some areas. It is a delicate balance, but here are three areas to consider that I think will help when selecting the people who will work directly with you.


When you promote someone, you send a message to everyone else in your ministry of what you celebrate and what gets your attention. Often, a person’s character goes unnoticed, but you must show that it is a priority for you by elevating leaders who have demonstrated integrity.

We want the stars that will shine the longest, not necessarily the brightest. If you desire team members that will last, then make sure that their character is strong enough to support and sustain their gifting.

While faithfulness is essential, it cannot be the only attribute we identify for promotion. Capacity also needs to be considered. This area of leadership covers a person’s giftedness and ability to continue to grow. Just like the area of character, it may take time to evaluate a leader’s capacity fully.

It is important to note that the same person who is good at doing a job may not be the best person to manage and motivate others to do that job. When you form a leadership team, you have to have people who can do the job and lead the people doing the job. Accomplishing this takes identifying someone’s capacity to grow into the role of being a leader.

For a team to last, there must also be chemistry. I believe you need to like the people that report directly to you. You do not have to be B.F.F. with every leader in your church. You need a variety of people and personalities to minister to the different types of people who walk through your doors. On the other hand, you should not have someone on your top leadership team who you do not look forward to seeing when you meet.

It would help if you also considered how a leader interacts with the other people on your team. Someone can have character, be gifted, and make your day when you see them, but if they do not get along with the rest of your team, you will have issues. Make sure they are not telling you just what you want to hear when you are around while not making an effort to get along with others. Your team has to have chemistry if it is also going to have longevity.

Bonus: Calling
One thing that often gets overlooked is that transition is a natural part of every team. Not everyone will be with you forever. That’s how swamps are made. Water flows in, but it never flows out. Sometimes someone has to go to make room for someone else you did not know you needed. You want your team to be committed, but you also want to make room for other people’s calling and the bigger picture of what God is up to in people’s lives.

This blog first appeared at

The New Way to Do Church

21 Online Church Innovations

I visited as many churches online as I could this Sunday. During my church channel surfing, I learned a lot about the adjustments churches are making to bring their worship experience online. For many churches, live streaming has already been available. Now that online is the only way churches can gather for Sunday Services, some are mixing things up to create a new type of online worship experience. 

The 21 things I saw churches doing seem to fall in one of the following categories: Presentation (of the message), Worship (the music), Connection, Information, and Access.


Join people in their homes by creating an intimate environment to share your message instead of preaching from a platform. For example, teach from your living room as if you were in a small group gathering.

Have a one-on-one conversation with people.

Give your church something consistent in a time when everything else seems to be changing by teaching from the stage as usual.


Creating a studio worship experience that offers some variety from what people may be expecting.

Use pre-recorded worship to simplify your production while still delivering a quality worship experience.

Take worship to the living room with a small group acoustic set.

Have the worship team on stage for a familiar setup for worship.


Use social media to take people behind the scenes.

Take communion virtually. Bring liturgy into the living and connect tangibly with those in your church.

It’s time to chat during church. Man the conversation feed for a personal touch.

Pradeepan and Amreitha Jeeva at their Macs and ready to chat!

Encourage online community by sharing a hashtag and asking those watching to post a pic.

Daniel E. Groves demonstrates how to take a selfie before the Hope City broadcast.
Jeremy Foster, Hope City Church

Connect before you communicate. Take some time to get real before jumping into your message. Talk about the reality of how people are having to join church this morning, and what life looks like right now.

Scott and Kelly Niemeier, HighPoint Church


Speak to your church directly with a video on your homepage explaining what they can expect from you and your church during this time.

Brad and Jessica Hampton, SOCO Church

Have a pre-show that informs and encourages your church. Give them tips for worshiping online and sharing the broadcast on their social media.

Before you kick of your live stream let your church know what you have available for kids and students.

Andy and Christy Cass, Echo Church

Make it is easy to give and get COVID-19 updates. Put vital information in your Facebook Live Stream.

Pradeepan and Amreitha Jeeva, Kalos Church

Have your broadcast schedule available if you are not currently broadcasting.

Jimn Kyles, Anchor Bend


Offer people multiple platforms to join your live stream on a landing page and on your home page.

Shaun Nepstad, Fellowship Church, Antioch, CA

Make your replay immediately available for those who may be viewing your church online for the first time and do not know your service times.

Terrence and Johanne Wilson, Cool Church

Take your worship guide online with a worship experience landing page that tells people how to connect and where to take next steps.

Rich Wilkerson Jr., Vous Church

Create a Facebook event for your weekend service with live streaming information that people can share.

Terrence and Johanne Wilson, Cool Church

This Sunday showed me there are many great online church experiences. I really enjoyed tuning in and hearing from people I normally wouldn’t be able to get a message from.

What are some other things you see churches doing that seems to be working well in this new church online landscape? Leave a comment and let me know!

10 Live Streaming Solutions for Churches Adjusting to COVID-19 Outbreak

How to Connect with Your Church Online During Social Distancing

Some churches are adjusting to holding services online for the first time now that social distancing guidelines are in place across the country. How can we help pastors live streaming for the first time avoid mistakes and interruptions to their broadcast? Here is a list of tips and insights to help make the transition smoother.

  1. Avoid being kicked off of Facebook and Youtube by not playing copyrighted music in your pre-service buffer video.
    • For example: if you are playing Hillsong on your pre-service countdown video you can get kicked off for copyright infringement.
    • Live music is fine, but playing tracks could cause the music to be picked up as copyrighted.
  2. Combine your efforts. If you do not have a permanent location or equipment team up with other churches that do.
    • Maybe one person has the equipment and the other has the permanent space. Or maybe you have team members that can do worship that will be used by all on the team-up. What a witness this could be for your community.
  3. Encourage people to share the premier instead of hosting multiple watch parties for greater interaction. 
    • “For greater interaction on Facebook live (both live or pre-recorded)… watch parties and multiple services actually hurt interactions. Doing just one 10am service allowed us to exceed all my expectations with interactions online. Watch parties took people away from the momentum of numbers in our primary group chat and viewers.” Contributed by Brad Hampton, Soco Church, Bentonville, AR. 
  4. “Designate someone to run and man the stream chat as there were questions and comments in real-time that needed to be addressed and or deleted.” Contributed by Michael Matthew, Eternal Rock Church, Houston TX 
  5. The benefits of pre-recording vs live streaming.
    • “Higher resolution on broadcasting prerecorded. Post-production editing. Adding text, videos, slides in post-production editing, for churches that are unable to steam that content in real-time. Broadcasting prerecorded overall decreases the room for error.  We have the ability to live stream. But just pre-recorded last night for this weekend. And they’re going to pre-record for the next two or three weekends Starting tomorrow.” Contributed by John Pomeroy, New Anthem Church, Mount Clemens, MI
  6. Free live streaming is available. Church Online Platform from Open Church (Life.Church and the Bible App) is totally free and will always be free. You can find out more here:
    • “At Life.Church, one of our core values is irrational generosity. We’re committed to equipping the “capital C” Church in every way we can. That’s why the Church Online Platform is available completely free of charge. Our definition of “free” extends to support and updates, too. You’ll get personalized customer service, software upgrades, and new features for the life of the tool.”
  7. Free Resources for Kids:
  8. Worship Solutions from Substance Church
  9. A Church Communications Strategy/Calendar during Covid-19. Live Stream Content Starting at 9:44  (Contributed by Jon-Michael Sherman, TheRocket.Media)
  10. More live stream options:

Outreach Ideas During the COVID-19 Outbreak

How to connect with the needs of your community during social distancing.

Outreach can be challenging with social distancing guidelines in place. You need to make sure you are considering your community’s guidelines for social distancing and that you are staying up to date as things are continuing to change so quickly.

A new obstacle also means a new opportunity to meet people’s needs. What are the new needs being presented as a result of this outbreak and how can we reach out to help during this time? Here are some things church planters are doing to reach people in need as a result of COVID-19.

  1. Offer free grocery, toiletry, and medication delivery for those most vulnerable. Getting payment from them via Venmo or picking up cash before shopping. Contributed by: Austin Coleman, HEART and SOUL, Knoxville, TN,
  2. Offer free coffee at a local coffee shop for medical professionals. Contributed by: Andy and Christy Cass, Echo Church, Rochester, MN, @wearetheechochurch
  3. Have your Children’s ministry organize making cards for those in assisted living facilities that can’t receive guests. Contributed by: Chris Shinnick, Manna Church West Florida, Niceville, FL, @MannaChurchFL
  4. Buy grocery store gift cards (can be as small as $5) and hand them out with God loves you cards or church invite cards at gas stations to help with those struggling financially. Contributed by: Chris Shinnick, Manna Church West Florida, Niceville, FL, @MannaChurchFL
  5. Assist with local food pantry as a drop off point. Contributed by: Chris Shinnick, Manna Church West Florida, Niceville, FL, @MannaChurchFL
  6. Call senior citizen members of your church. Just check-in, pray with them and find out if there is any need you can meet. Contributed by: Chad Fisher, Rock City Church, Columbus OH, @rockcitychurch
  7. Set up a Facebook group connecting parents and teachers to help with homeschooling. Contributed by: Angela Mooney, Relate Community Church, Spring, TX, @relatecommunitychurch
  8. Offer a drive up with non-perishables for people to pick up. Contributed by: Laura Strand, The Bridge, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, MO,  @thebridgechurchmo
  9. Leave a card with a note of encouragement or free coffee on the cars of healthcare workers. Contributed by: Laura Strand, The Bridge, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, MO,  @thebridgechurchmo
  10. Let your neighbors know times you are available to pick things up for them with a God loves you card. Contributed by: Laura Strand, The Bridge, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, MO,  @thebridgechurchmo
  11. Collecting items to deliver to medical workers on duty (granola bars, bottled coffees, snacks, gas gift cards, etc). Contributed by: Betsy Davis, Hope Church KC, Kansas City, MO, @hopechurchkc
  12. Help with food distribution via local organizations or schools to reach the kids who won’t have access to food while schools are closed. Contributed by: Betsy Davis, Hope Church KC, Kansas City, MO, @hopechurchkc
  13. Buy gift cards for gas and hand them out with God loves you cards or church invite cards at gas stations to help with those struggling financially. Contributed by: Ana Silvestre, Venture Church, Salinas, CA, @Venturechurchsalinas  
  14. Provided lunch for people working overtime at school administration building (eLearning, cleaning, communications, etc). We showed up with box lunches from a local restaurant. Contributed by: Chad Lunsford, Echo Church, Avon, IN,
  15. Offer online financial crisis coaching (and prayer). (the leaders of our financial peace university are doing this for people in our church) It would be cool to offer this to the public based on Biblical principles. Contributed by: Amreitha Jeeva, Kalos Church, Bellevue, WA, @kaloschurch

Remember the kids:

With kids at home, this is a great opportunity to minister to families. You can post a new activity to your social media each day that families can do at home. Have someone from your children’s ministry shoot a quick video talking to kids. Post resources that families can use that would be helpful during this time.

More Resources:

ARC Resources and Support

COVID-19 and How to Serve Your City By Serve Day

What Do We Do Now? By Serve Day

15 Things Church Planters Can Do During COVID-19 Outbreak

Strategies for Church Planters Adjusting to COVID-19 and Social Distancing

What do you do if you are a church planter preparing for a launch day later in 2020 or 2021? The landscape is changing day-by-day right now. Things may look different a week or two weeks from now. Even so, I wanted to share some things that can help church planters move forward in a time where social distancing is the rule and there is a pandemic impacting people’s live like we have not seen in recent memory.

If you are a church planter here are 15 things you can do right now:

  1. Pray –
    1. That the spread of this virus would be contained and that we will see a turnaround in the number of people being infected and dying from this disease.
    2. For healthcare workers.
    3. For wisdom for leaders.
    4. For those impacted by the virus.
    5. For people to place their trust in God.
  2. Follow Community guidelines regarding social distancing. Educate yourself on what others are doing to implement these guidelines and learn from their messaging.
  3. Have contingency plans for launch day. Have three timelines. For example:
    1. Plan for your September Launch Day.
    2. Have a backup plan to launch in October
    3. What would it look like to launch at the beginning of November or in 2021?
  4. Website – Make sure to have a landing page if not a recruiting website up as soon as possible.
  5. Giving – Make giving easy by having online options available. Some platforms will offer free use of their giving platform for church planters for an introductory period. 
  6. Go online with your message now. Don’t wait for Launch Day or Sunday to start offering hope and prayer. Take advantage of social media platforms to offer messages of hope, pointing people to God, encouragement, and prayer.
    1. Offer online prayer meetings.
    2. Offer daily short encouragement.
  7. Offer a listening ear. One of the greatest gifts we can give someone is the time to hear them out. FaceTime or call people and just check-in, ask questions, listen, and offer to pray with them.
  8. Stay informed. Be in touch with what is happening in our nation, your state, and your local community. What guidelines are being given and what needs are being presented that can be prayed for?
  9. Be Others Focused – Make everything you do and say is about the people you are serving and not about you and your church or your unique needs in this uncharted landscape of church planting.
  10. Prepare the things now that don’t involve meeting with people or will take away from your time focusing on people once some of the meeting guidelines are lifted.
  11. Look for the opportunities to serve that are being presented that may not be available if circumstances were different. Serving local business and medical professionals For example:
    1. Offering free coffee in the drive-through at a local coffee shop to medical professionals.
    2. Support for families at home with kids.
  12. Stay connected to your church network and other ministry leaders for encouragement, resources, and new ideas to continue moving forward.
  13. Broadcast – Learn how to use live streaming platforms for online presentations. For example: 
    1. Quick Guidelines for Live Streaming a Church Service
    2. Zoom
    3. Facebook Premiere
    4. Youtube Premiere
    5. Church Online Platform
  14. Use money wisely. Make every dollar count and save when you can and spend only what is necessary. Wait when you can, and trust God with your financial preparations.
  15. Use technology to stay connected to your team during social distancing
    • Group Messaging Apps: Slack and GroupMe
    • Cloud Services for collaboration: Google Drive & Evernote
    • Video Messaging: Marco Polo & Google Hangouts
    • Facebook: Groups, Page, Chat, & Messaging
    • Instagram
    • Twitter
    • Youtube: Public Videos, Private Videos for Your Team, & Past Broadcasts

What else would be helpful? Add to the list in the comments below. Thanks!